MEPS 227:11-24 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps227011

Foraging ecology of a generalist predator, the female New Zealand fur seal

Robert G. Harcourt1,2,*, Corey J. A. Bradshaw3, Kate Dickson1, Lloyd S. Davis1

1Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
2Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia
3Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

ABSTRACT: This study examined how diet, foraging location and diving behaviour of female New Zealand fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri at Otago Peninsula, New Zealand (45°52¹S, 170°44¹E), varied in relation to prey abundance among seasons in 1994 and 1995. Time-depth recorders measured the diving behaviour of 24 lactating female fur seals, during summer, autumn or winter of 1994 and summer and autumn of 1995. Foraging locations were obtained by deploying satellite transmitters in summer, autumn and winter of 1994 only. Estimated biomass of prey items was determined from 690 scats and 166 regurgitates collected over summer, autumn and winter of both years, and compared with abundance data from research trawls in the same area. Foraging trip duration increased during the cooler seasons. Female fur seals showed a clear bout structure in dive behaviour, with the relative proportion of 3 main bout types (Long, Shallow, Deep) varying with season. Time between bouts (IBI) and bout duration varied with season, suggesting that prey distribution and prey encounter rate also varied. Linear discriminant analysis of the dive and foraging trip characteristics of individual females demonstrated clear seasonal differences. Females foraged on or near the continental slope in summer and farther offshore in autumn. Satellite telemetry locations and diet suggest principally inshore foraging during winter. Fur seals ate predominantly arrow squid Nototodarus sloanii during summer and autumn of both years, although fish, particularly myctophids, were persistent in the diet. Arrow squid were less common in winter when diet was more varied, and an inshore, benthic fish, ahuru Auchenoceros punctatus was dominant. There was no relationship between the annual changes in abundance of major prey species as measured by research trawls and their occurrence in seal diet. Overall, changes in dive behaviour may reflect changes in prey selection as prey abundance and availability change among seasons.

KEY WORDS: Fur seals · Diet · Dive behaviour · Dive bouts · Foraging trips · Satellite telemetry · Seasonal differences

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